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Swiss president sends condolences to Austria

Rescue workers lead an injured woman away from the site

(Keystone)

The Swiss president, Adolf Ogi, has sent a message of condolence to Austria, after more than 150 people were killed in an alpine tunnel fire near Salzburg. The blaze engulfed a funicular train, carrying skiers up a mountain.

In his message to Austria's president, Thomas Klestil, Ogi expressed his "deep shock" at the tragedy and offered condolences from his cabinet and the Swiss people.

The Austrian government declared a state of national mourning in the wake of what is thought to be the worst alpine disaster in the country's history.

At least 155 passengers are known to have died. The train, which can carry 180 passengers, was thought to have been full.

The governor of Salzburg, Franz Schausberger, said: "They were primarily young people, who perhaps decided early today on the spur of the moment to do some winter sports."

He told Austrian radio that the intense heat of the fire had destroyed everything except the metal structure of the train.

Only 12 people managed to escape from the train, which is trapped deep inside a tunnel in the Kitzsteinhorn mountain, southwest of Salzburg.

Those who escaped were at the back of the train. They managed to break windows and free themselves.

The nationality of 85 victims has been identified. They include Austrians, Germans, Japanese and Americans.

The mayor of Kaprun, Norbert Karlsboeck, told Austrian television that the fire started at around 0900 local time, when the train was about 600 metres into the tunnel.

He said the cause of the fire was not known. Experts were reported to be puzzled because the train is drawn uphill with a cable and does not have an on-board power source.

The journey up the Kitzsteinhorn railway is four kilometres long, and normally takes around nine minutes.

The incident comes in the wake of last year's tragedy in the Mont Blanc road tunnel between France and Italy, when 40 died after a truck caught fire.

swissinfo with agencies

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